28 December 2020

Toward A Psychology of Being

From my perspective, it's fair to claim, that most research in the fields of psychology (and medicine) gives priority to concentrating on subjects rather unhealthy, "broken", evidently not working right.

Well, this is understandable: a) such subjects are ubiquitous; b) human mind and action are drawn to subjects that require a treatment.

The abundance of material is being mistakenly taken for a genuine knowledge, leading to systematic mistakes, such as:

With that in mind, contemplate the immense value contained in Toward A Psychology of Being, which tries to investigate a question of what we could call a psychological health.

The author of the book is a renowned psychologist Abraham H. Maslow. He is best known for Maslow's hierarchy of needs, introduced in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation".

The book Toward A Psychology of Being was first published in 1962.

Answering this question in flexible, evolving theories could allow easing effort of searching a way toward true satisfaction of personal needs for numerous people. Thus, inevitably increasing the chances for building a happier civilization as a whole. [The word "happier" is used here as a loose identifier of differing values.]

The book is rather large! Hence, the number of quotes listed below isn't small as well.

Part I: A Larger Jurisdiction for Psychology

The more we learn about man’s natural tendencies, the easier it will be to tell him how to be good, how to be happy, how to be fruitful, how to respect himself, how to love, how to fulfill his highest potentialities. This amounts to automatic solution of many of the personality problems of the future. The thing to do seems to be to find out what you are really like inside, deep down, as a member of the human species and as a particular individual.

Perhaps adjustment and stabilization, while good because it cuts your pain, is also bad because development toward a higher ideal ceases?

… growth and improvement can come through pain and conflict.

Does sickness mean having symptoms? I maintain now that sickness might consist of not having symptoms when you should. Does health mean being symptom-free? I deny it.

In a word if you tell me you have a personality problem I am not certain until I know you better whether to say “Good!” or “I’m sorry.” It depends on the reasons. And these, it seems, may be bad reasons, or they may be good reasons.

If grief and pain are sometimes necessary for growth of the person, then we must learn not to protect people from them automatically as if they were always bad.

Practically every serious description of the "authentic person" extant implies that such a person, by virtue of what he has become, assumes a new relation to his society and indeed, to society in general. He not only transcends himself in various ways; he also transcends his culture. He resists enculturation. He becomes more detached from his culture and from his society. He becomes a little more a member of his species and a little less a member of his local group.

Also we must realize that only the future is in principle unknown and unknowable, which means that all habits, defenses and coping mechanisms are doubtful and ambiguous since they are based on past experience. Only the flexibly creative person can really manage future, only the one who can face novelty with confidence and without fear. I am convinced that much of what we now call psychology is the study of the tricks we use to avoid the anxiety of absolute novelty by making believe the future will be like the past.

… the loss of illusions and the discovery of identity, though painful at first, can be ultimately exhilarating and strengthening.

Part II: Growth and Motivation

Observation of children shows more and more clearly that healthy children enjoy growing and moving forward, gaining new skills, capacities and powers. This is in flat contradiction to that version of Freudian theory which conceives of every child as hanging on desperately to each adjustment that it achieves and to each state of rest or equilibrium.

So far as motivational status is concerned, healthy people have sufficiently gratified their basic needs for safety, belongingness, love, respect and self-esteem so that they are motivated primarily by trends to self-actualization (defined as ongoing actualization of potentials, capacities and talents, as fulfillment of mission (or call, fate, destiny, or vocation), as a fuller knowledge of, and acceptance of, the person’s own intrinsic nature, as an unceasing trend toward unity, integration or synergy within the person).

… These healthy people are there defined by describing their clinically observed characteristics. These are:

  1. Superior perception of reality.
  2. Increased acceptance of self, of others and of nature.
  3. Increased spontaneity.
  4. Increase in problem-centering.
  5. Increased detachment and desire for privacy.
  6. Increased autonomy, and resistance to enculturation.
  7. Greater freshness of appreciation, and richness of emotional reaction.
  8. Higher frequency of peak experiences.
  9. Increased identification with the human species.
  10. Changed (the clinician would say, improved) interpersonal relations.
  11. More democratic character structure.
  12. Greatly increased creativeness.
  13. Certain changes in the value system.

Activity can be enjoyed either intrinsically, for its own sake, or else have worth and value only because it is instrumental in bringing about a desired gratification. In the latter case it loses its value and is no longer pleasurable when it is no longer successful or efficient. More frequently, it is simply not enjoyed at all, but only the goal is enjoyed.

… satisfying deficiencies avoids illness; growth satisfactions produce positive health. … there is a real clinical difference between fending off threat or attack and positive triumph and achievement, between protecting, defending and preserving oneself and reaching out for fulfillment, for excitement and for enlargement.

Deficiency-need gratification tends to be episodic and climactic. The most frequent schema here begins with an instigating, motivating state which sets off motivated behavior designed to achieve a goal-state, which, mounting gradually and steadily in desire and excitement, finally reaches a peak in a moment of success and consummation. From this peak curve of desire, excitement and pleasure fall rapidly to a plateau of quiet tension-release, and lack of motivation.

This schema, though not universally applicable, in any case contrasts very sharply with the situation in growth-motivation, for here, characteristically, there is no climax or consummation, no orgasmic moment, no end-state, even no goal if this be defined climactically. Growth is instead a continued, more or less steady upward or forward development. The more one gets, the more one wants, so that this kind of wanting is endless and can never be attained or satisfied.

It is for this reason that the usual separation between instigation, goal-seeking behavior, the goal object and the accompanying effect breaks down completely. The behaving is itself the goal, and to differentiate the goal of growth from the instigation to growth is impossible. They too are the same.

And yet it is unwise to forget that frequently the problems and the conflicts of the growth-motivated person are solved by himself by turning inward in a meditative way, i.e., self-searching, rather than seeking for help from someone. Even in principle, many of the tasks of self-actualization are largely intrapersonal, such as the making of plans, the discovery of self, the selection of potentialities to develop, the construction of a life-outlook.

… growth takes place when the next step forward is subjectively more delightful, more joyous, more intrinsically satisfying than the last; that the only way we can ever know what is right for us is that it feels better subjectively than any alternative. The new experience validates itself rather than by any outside criterion. It is self-justifying, self-validating.

Every human being has both sets of forces within him. One set clings to safety and defensiveness out of fear, tending to regress backward, hanging on to the past, afraid to grow away from the primitive communion with the mother’s uterus and breast, afraid to take chances, afraid to jeopardize what he already has, afraid of independence, freedom and separateness. The other set of forces impels him forward toward wholeness of Self and uniqueness of Self, toward full functioning of all his capacities, toward confidence in the face of the external world at the same time that he can accept his deepest, real, unconscious Self.

Safety has both anxieties and delights; growth has both anxieties and delights. We grow forward when the delights of growth and anxieties of safety are greater than the anxieties of growth and the delights of safety.

Assured safety permits higher needs and impulses to emerge and to grow towards mastery. To endanger safety, means regression backward to the more basic foundation.

Since others are so important and vital for the helpless baby and child, fear of losing them (as providers of safety, food, love, respect, etc.) is a primal, terrifying danger. Therefore, the child, faced with a difficult choice between his own delight experiences and the experience of approval from others, must generally choose approval from others, and then handle his delight by repression or letting it die, or not noticing it or controlling it by will-power. In general, along with this will develop a disapproval of the delight experience, or shame and embarrassment and secretiveness about it, with finally, the inability even to experience it.

Recovering the ability to perceive one’s own delights is the best way of rediscovering the sacrificed self even in adulthood.

From our point of view, Freud’s greatest discovery is that the great cause of much psychological illness is the fear of knowledge of oneself—of one’s emotions, impulses, memories, capacities, potentialities, of one’s destiny. We have discovered that fear of knowledge of oneself is very often isomorphic with, and parallel with, fear of the outside world. …

In general this kind of fear is defensive, in the sense that it is a protection of our self-esteem, of our love and respect for ourselves. We tend to be afraid of any knowledge that could cause us to despise ourselves or to make us feel inferior, weak, worthless, evil, shameful.

This is one aspect of the basic human predicament, that we are simultaneously worms and gods.

It was certainly safer for the Germans living near Dachau not to know what was going on, to be blind and pseudo-stupid. For if they knew, they would either have had to do something about it or else feel guilty about being cowards.

The child, too, can play this same trick, denying, refusing to see what is plain to anyone else: that his father is a contemptible weakling, or that his mother doesn’t really love him. This kind of knowledge is a call for action which is impossible. Better not to know.

Part III: Growth and Cognition

Seeing is better than being blind, even when seeing hurts.

The peak-experiences of pure delight are for my subjects among the ultimate goals of living and the ultimate validations and justifications for it. That the psychologist should by-pass them or even be officially unaware of their existence, or what is even worse, in the objectivistic psychologies, deny a priori the possibility of their existence as objects for scientific study, is incomprehensible.

… the whole of Being is only neutral or good, and that evil or pain or threat is only a partial phenomenon, a product of not seeing the world whole and unified, and of seeing it from a self-centered point of view.

As a matter of fact we may say that it is this criterion, of being able to be receiving and passive, that marks off the good therapist from the poor one of whatever school. The good therapist is able to perceive each person in his own right freshly and without the urge to taxonomize, to rubricize, to classify and pigeon hole.

The person in the peak-experiences usually feels himself to be at the peak of his powers, using all his capacities at the best and fullest. In Rogers nice phrase, he feels “fully-functioning.” He feels more intelligent, more perceptive, wittier, stronger, or more graceful than at other times. He is at his best, at concert pitch, at the top of his form. This is not only felt subjectively but can be seen by the observer. He is no longer wasting effort fighting and restraining himself; muscles are no longer fighting muscles. In the normal situation, part of our capacities are used for action, and part are wasted on restraining these same capacities. Now there is no waste; the totality of the capacities can be used for action. He becomes like a river without dams.

Everything now comes of its own accord, pouring out, without will, effortlessly, purposelessly. He acts now totally and without deficiency, not homeostatically or need-reductively, not to avoid pain or displeasure or death, not for the sake of a goal further on in the future, not for any other end than itself. His behavior and experience becomes per se, and self-validating, end-behavior and end-experience, rather than means-behavior or means-experience.

That is to say, though being more fully human means to have problems and pains still (even though of a “higher” sort), yet it remains true that these problems and pains are quantitatively less, and that the pleasures are quantitatively and qualitatively greater.

Part IV: Creativeness

This ability to express ideas and impulses without strangulation and without fear of ridicule turned out to be an essential aspect of SA creativeness. [Y.E. creativity in self-actualizing people.]

The civil war within the average person between the forces of the inner depths and the forces of defense and control seems to have been resolved in my subjects and they are less split. As a consequence, more of themselves is available for use, for enjoyment and for creative purposes. They waste less of their time and energy protecting themselves against themselves.

Part V: Values

All these age-old axioms are swept away by the new possibility of defining the main function of a healthy culture as the fostering of universal self-actualization.

Under really free choice we find mature or healthier people valuing not only truth, goodness and beauty but also the regressive, survival and/or homeostatic values of peace and quiet, of sleep and rest, of surrender, of dependency and safety, or protection from reality and relief from it, of slipping back from Shakespeare to detective stories, of retiring into fantasy, even of wishing for death (peace), etc. We may call them crudely the growth values and the healthy-regressive, or “coasting” values, and point out further that the more mature, strong and healthy the person, the more he seeks growth values and the less he seeks and needs “coasting” values; but he still needs both.

Part VI: Future Tasks

For self-actualizing people, there is a strong tendency for selfishness and unselfishness to fuse into a higher, superordinate unity. Work tends to be the same as play; vocation and avocation become the same thing. When duty is pleasant and pleasure is fulfillment of duty, then they lose their separateness and oppositeness. The highest maturity is discovered to include a childlike quality, and we discover healthy children to have some of the qualities of mature self-actualization. The inner-outer split, between self and all else, gets fuzzy and much less sharp, and they are seen to be permeable to each other at the highest levels of personality development.

Another crucial aspect of healthy growth of selfhood and full-humanness is dropping away the techniques used by the child, in his weakness and smallness for adapting himself to the strong, large, all-powerful, omniscient, godlike adults. He must replace these with the techniques of being strong and independent and of being a parent himself. This involves especially giving up the child’s desperate wish for the exclusive, total love of his parents while learning to love others. He must learn to gratify his own needs and wishes, rather than the needs of his parents, and he must learn to gratify them himself, rather than depending upon the parents to do this for him. He must give up being good out of fear and in order to keep their love, and must be good because he wishes to be. He must discover his own conscience and give up his internalized parents as a sole ethical guide. All these techniques by which weakness adapts itself to strength are necessary for the child but immature and stunting in the adult. He must replace fear with courage.

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